ted & pamela

Posts Tagged ‘mosquitoes’

Epilogue: A Dozen Quirky Observations about Indonesia

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
creative luggage

creative luggage

These do not relate to one specific part of Indonesia, but are things we have observed about the country as a whole during the last 2 weeks:

  1. Kleenex is a multi-purpose instrument, serving as facial tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins.
  2. That being said, toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and an automatic flushing mechanism are luxuries. As are consistent hot water, internet access, and power… even at nice hotels.
  3. Pillows are too fat. Perhaps intended as a sign of luxury?
  4. There are not as many mozzies (mosquitoes) as in the Amazon, but still way too many for a Ted (Pamela boasts just one bite).
  5. Cardboard boxes are apparently suitcases. They get taped up quite securely, wrapped with ribbon or extra tape for a handle, and checked at the airport.
  6. Children find us quite interesting. They stare at us, and get super excited if we look at them and smile 🙂
  7. children

    children

    Roads here are crazy. There are more motorbikes (mostly small motorcycles & scooters, not Harley’s etc.) than cars/trucks, and people drive with complete freedom to crowd the shoulder with motorbikes, pass at will, use the other side of the road, fit many vehicles into one lane, etc., all on ridiculously windy narrow roads meant more for motorbikes than cars (possibly kept too narrow on purpose because there are no speed limits, so the too-narrow road acts as a natural speed limiter). It’s scary whether you’re in the car or on the bike.

  8. Speaking of motorbikes, I’ve definitely seen ten-year-olds driving them on the roads in the more remote villages. There is no law here with a minimum driving age; in fact, if you don’t pass your driving test, you can get a license anyway by paying for it.
  9. Food here is cheap. You can get a complete, healthy meal at a restaurant for $3-4. In the US, the only meal you can get for that price is fast food crap.
  10. When they say that the food/water here will mess with your digestive system, the proper response should not be “bah, I’m made of stronger stuff than that.” Because it will, in fact, mess with your digestive system…
  11. crazy roads

    crazy roads

    Indonesian restaurants overall failed to impress. The best food we had was the home-cooked meals that we were served on the boats. And it’s going to be a long time before I eat more nasi goreng (fried rice).

  12. Shopping (and in some cases, even eating) is also not a pleasant experience. Shop (and restaurant) owners won’t stop talking to you. Any time you pass by, they say, “yes?”, beg you to enter their store, entreat you to stare at objects other than the one that caught your attention, and then stand there talking to you while you attempt to conduct a private conversation. However, they are always willing to give you a “discount” and promise a “good price”. Meaning, don’t ever pay what they first quote.

The Japan Alps: Japan Days 8-10

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Last post on Japan!

Arrival of the Shinkansen

Arrival of the Shinkansen

2012-07-28: Kyoto to Fukuji Onsen

We started the day with another 8am breakfast at the ryokan. Breakfast has gotten more psychic: Ms. Uemura stopped asking if Ted wanted a second piece of toast and just brought it. During breakfast, we watched the Olympic opening ceremony on TV in Japanese and saw the torch get lit. We could hear the beginning of everything that was said in English… but about 3 words in the Japanese translator would drown out the English in the background. After eating, we cleaned up and checked out, but left our luggage behind. Even as we checked out, there were no other guests at Ryokan Uemura. Surprising; almost disconcerting.

No sooner had we walked around the corner from the ryokan than we ended up in the middle of a group of people filming a movie scene. They had to stop to let us through. I’m guessing they re-shot that scene. =\

We walked to Ryozen Kannon Buddhist temple, which was basically in our backyard but we haven’t been home during its open hours. Our entrance fee bought us an incense stick to bring up to the… incense-stick-offering-area. We finally got a complete view of the giant Buddha statue sitting on top of the main temple that we’d caught sight of two nights ago. Pamela wonders how a temple can hold up a gigantic stone Buddha. It was seriously gigantic, and just sitting on the roof of the temple. Then we caught monks chanting and drumming and performing a ritual, which we later read (in the temple’s brochure) was a ceremony that they only do 3 times a month, in which “the mountain priests of this temple conduct services of kindling a sacred fire for the sake of national prosperity, highway traffic safety, and harmony within families.” We walked as closely as we dared without distracting them, and Pamela videotaped the chanting.

After staying too long (we’d told Uemura we’d only be gone an hour), we walked next door to Kodai-ji Buddhist temple. We did a really quick walk along the “tour route”, hardly stopping to look at anything or take any pictures, and discovered that our “quick run-through” of Kodai-ji was about the average touring pace of other tourists… and we even skipped all the optional turn-outs. We’re slow.

We walked a few steps back to Uemura, collected our luggage and took a bus to Kyoto station. While waiting for the bus that our map said went to the station, this other bus arrived listing “Kyoto station” as its destination and we decided to take our chances. Apparently our bus map is incomplete, because the bus we took isn’t listed on it at all.

Once we’d purchased our train tickets, we ate lunch (pasta and… a rice-pasta-omelet) and then wandered into the department store at the station and gawked over all the pretty, expensive umbrellas/parasols. There are a lot of pretty umbrellas walking around Japan, and the department store had several hundred of them in stock. We’ve never seen so many umbrellas for sale, and all with different pretty designs. They were also unnecessarily expensive, so of course now Pamela wanted one.

We rode a Shinkansen (Hikari) from Kyoto to Nagoya. Upon boarding this train, an entire class of Japanese schoolchildren got on the train with us. Our first instinct was to groan, but as we got off the train, we realized we’d forgotten they were even there. How was an entire class of elementary school children that quiet for so long?? Ted slept; Pamela wrote yesterday’s blog post until the computer ran out of battery. The train from Nagoya to Takayama was slower. Pamela slept; Ted studied Japanese.

We arrived in Takayama… in a rainstorm. The storm had been partially predicted, because when a train passed us going the other direction, Pamela had said “that train… is wet.” But it was still jarring after the heat of Kyoto. While we waited in bus station… we found free Wi-Fi!!! Japan does not seem to be very big on Wi-Fi hot spots; this was the first and only one we ever came across other than the airport. Pamela plugged in her dead laptop to post a blog entry… but got yelled at for using the power outlet. I can use the Wi-Fi, but not the outlet???

Seriously, why can’t I use a power outlet??

That burned.

We rode the bus from Takayama to Fujuki Onsen through the rainstorm. At our stop, we asked the bus driver where our ryokan was, and he found it on a map and then drove us a bit farther forward to point it out to us and keep us out of the rain. The helpful bus driver did not actually speak any English, although he managed “bus stop” at one point. He also had a very thick regional accent of some sort.

Ted says that the name of our new ryokan (Ryokan Sansui, or 山水) literally means “Mountain Water.” Fitting for a hot spring hotel. As we walked up to the building, a man came running out to help us as if he’d been waiting all day for us to show up. A woman gave us a tour and showed us our room. Then dinner came… By dinner time, the rainstorm had turned into a thunderstorm, and the first particularly loud crash of thunder actually made Pamela scream. Pamela claims she has never screamed due to thunder before…

But back to dinner. First, a new woman walked in with a tray of food, and indicated to move our table and make room for it. Then we both pulled our seats up to opposite sides of the tray, and the woman looked horrified and indicated that that was very wrong, so we leapt back. Then she came in with a *second* tray of food. Oh.

In the end, dinner involved 15 separate dishes; they just kept bringing up more food! We’re still not sure what half of it was; but in no particular order we were served:

  • Jasmine tea;
  • mineral water;
  • a square box with… a bite of salmon with something yellow on top; a square of fish on top of a cube of cornmeal; an entire 3-inch-long fish; a bowl with a wheel-shaped vegetable and a bit of meat; a leaf wrapped around rice and secured with a toothpick; and something that looked like a round stuffed pork slice;
  • a bowl with… shrimp tail; flower-shaped soft rice cake; purple and white vegetable that looked like swiss cheese (lotus root?); a bite of green vegetable; another… vegetable; and a pile of thin seaweed-y things in a soupy sauce;
  • a bowl of cold soba with rice krispies and green onion;
  • a bowl of miso soup with a *lot* of seaweed, green onions, tofu, and mushrooms (Pamela drained the broth);
  • a bowl of egg pudding with fish and a white vegetable and a green leafy vegetable;
  • a bowl with a potato-rice ball;
  • a bowl of tempura with shrimp, zucchini, kabocha squash, 2 leafy green things, a potato chip (??), and a dish of pink salt to dip it in;
  • a plate with an entire 8-inch fried trout atop vegetables (pink, brown, and green strips) and a green chili pepper;
  • a sashimi plate with tuna (2 pieces), 2 types of white fish (2 pieces each), and a pile of noodle and radish (?), with soy sauce, wasabi, a flower, a sprig of small red ball-shaped berries, and tiny red leaves on the side;
  • a plate of beef, enoki mushrooms, green onions, other onions, and brown peanut-ty sauce over a giant brown leaf, with chafing fuel lit in a pot underneath the plate to cook it;
  • a pot of rice… that we never opened. Oops. The women exclaimed over it when they came back to pick up the remains of our dinner;
  • a bowl of pickled… green, red, and white veggies, next to the rice, that we also never touched. This was apparently less offensive;
  • a dessert cup with green tea pudding, whipped cream, pink mocha ball, and a piece of fruit.

After dinner, the first woman (the only one who could manage some broken English besides the man at the front desk) told us there was a summer festival going on right that moment, and another woman brought us dessert while they removed dinner and laid out our futons. We ate the dessert and changed, then went down to walk to the festival… and were told it was ending. Fail.

Instead, we showered and changed into yukatas provided by the inn. We tried to read up on the procedures for using hot spring baths in our travel book, and instead giggle about how it described “magic elves” as making your futon appear while you were bathing and disappear while you were eating. Ryokan staff members will thus henceforth be known as elves.

Apparently the yukata is intended to be worn with the left side crossing over the right side, not the other way around. This was learned after the inn-elf giggled at us and tried to fix it. No idea what else we were doing wrong with it.

We soaked in a private onsen (hot spring) bath outside before sleeping. The hot spring water is too hot to remain in for longer than ~5 min. at a time without a break, so we didn’t stay long (maybe 30 minutes). The correct onsen procedure here is to apparently shower in the “preparation room,” then get in the onsen bath, then shower again in the preparation room. We learned this after showering in our own room, as we found that the “preparation room” showers actually had soap and shampoo.

Random Observations:

  • Pamela still does not like Orangina, even though Ted thought he’d finally found some juice in the store for her.
  • Tatami mats look much nicer on the floor than industrial-grade carpeting.

Mountain Trail in the Japan Alps

Mountain Trail in the Japan Alps

2012-07-29: Shinhotaka Ropeway

We dragged ourselves down to our 8am breakfast only slightly late after our own alarm, an unexpected wake-up call, and an also-unexpected door knocking all ensured we’d be awake. Breakfast had almost as many dishes as dinner, but none of them looked very breakfast-y: this was our first actual Japanese-style breakfast, with things like rice, fish, soup, etc. Pamela liked the ham with potato salad and the boiled nuts the best. Meals around here do not seem to include much fruit, except perhaps a few pieces with dessert.

We asked the front desk where the nearest ATM was since we didn’t have enough cash left for today’s travel. (NOTHING in Japan takes credit cards except for the department stores. Seriously. Nothing. It’s cash or bust.) The inn elves told us that there wasn’t a nearby ATM, but that the female elf would drive us to one in the next town to the north, near a different bus stop. We accepted the offer, got ready and left… also only slightly late.

She drove us to an ATM… but it was the wrong kind of ATM – it didn’t take foreign cards because Japanese cards are apparently fancier. So she drove us to a different ATM. Also too fancy. Finally she drove us back to inn and loaned us a couple hundred dollars…

They offered to drive us to our destination, the Shinhotaka Ropeway, since we ended up missing the intended bus, but we declined and decided to wait for the next bus 45 minutes later. We ended up spending 30 of the 45 minutes we had to spare searching for the bus stop which was supposed to be 200 meters from the ryokan. A few minutes before the bus was due to arrive, the male inn elf mysteriously showed up to clean the bus stop building, and was still there as we left aboard the bus. We suspect he may have come just to make sure we made it onto the bus.

The bus took us to the Shinhotaka Ropeway, which is this gondola attached to a pulley system ski-lift style that takes you up to the top of some mountain a few mountains over from where it started. We went up up up. We noted that there were no other foreign tourists in the whole area. By the end of the day, we had only seen exactly 2 foreign tourists at Shinhotaka Ropeway: us. There were, however, many Japanese tourists.

We bought a baked good from a bakery at the ropeway to call lunch. It was yum. Then we bought 3 more. We admired the view from the top station for a short bit, and then attempted to hike the trail that Lonely Planet told us would take us down the other side of the mountain to Kamikochi, the next town over, in about 3 hours. We tried asking the guy in the store where the trailhead was, and he showed us Kamikochi on a map. Um, thanks. So we went outside and found a trail and just started walking down it. We took pictures of the signs along the way, wondering what they said. All we could tell was that they did NOT say Kamikochi (we’d taken a picture of its name on the map). We also noticed that everybody seemed to be going the *other* way down the trail.

A ways down the trail, we started stopping people we passed asking where they were coming from. None of them indicated that the trail went to Kamikochi (in fact, most of them seemed to indicate they had never heard of Kamikochi). One couple finally communicated that our trail was about a 2-hour hike and went to the summit of the extremely large-looking mountain in front of us. We finally turned around, deciding it must be the wrong trail.

When we got back to the trailhead, we looked at a map inside the hut again and discovered that the name of the stop *in between* us and Kamikochi matched the signs on the trail (and was over the summit of that large mountain). Thus we decided we had, in fact, been going the right way.

So, we started again. We’d gotten to about where we’d been before when we passed a group of hard-core-looking hikers. They stopped us, exclaiming that they had just seen us going the *other way*. A man in their group who actually spoke English (first one in the entire mountain range, I swear), asked why we were going back the way we’d just come. When we told him we’d been trying to go to Kamikochi but had been told we were going the wrong way, he exclaimed that we were crazy and should turn around at once. He claimed that they were going to Kamikochi, but with an overnight stop on top of the mountain, and that it was at least a 10-hour hike. We hiked for a little while longer, then turned around and went back again, deciding that either Lonely Planet was trying to kill us, or that the nice man thought we’d kill ourselves without hiking sticks or something. (Unlikely.)

After consulting the same hiking map for a third time, Ted found times listed between each stop on the trail, and decided it was supposed to be about a 3-hour hike. Sigh. At least the weather was really nice. It had been great hiking weather all afternoon, and would be great evening weather for outdoor festival-viewing; best weather all trip. This was the first day of our trip that Ted did not get over-heated and exhausted.

We took the ropeway back down and returned to our ryokan. Thankfully, we hiked back fast enough to make the 4pm bus rather than waiting another 2 hours for the next one.

After getting back, we relaxed in another private outdoor hot-spring-pool until dinner, then had another gastronomical adventure in our room, consisting of *only* 13 dishes this time. I’ll spare you the details of each dish.

After dinner, we walked to the “summer festival” with 2 guys we ran into from Norway, and couldn’t believe the fluidity of their English after trying to communicate with the Japanese for the last week. We watched some sort of cultural drum dance things, followed by a dragon dance, followed by a dragon-eating-a-snake dance. There were a million bugs attracted to the outdoor lighting, but thankfully, they were mostly moths, not mosquitoes. There was occasional lightning during the festival, but the rain held off.

We walked back to our room, sat by the windows, and turned all the lights off to watch the lightning storm outside until we fell asleep. The rain was no longer holding off.

Random Observations:

  • The Japan Alps are very pretty. The hiking trails are so much greener and prettier than the ones on Mt. Fuji, which was a barren volcano once you got above the tree line.
  • Japan uses these TP rods that have a cover. This cover is useful for tearing the unperforated TP if it is either (a) serrated or (b) thin. Not if it is thick.
  • The Japanese TP also has no cardboard roll inside. It’s like it was wrapped tightly around something else gear-shaped that was then removed. Less waste.
  • I don’t think we’ve mentioned Japanese toilets at all, actually.  For those of you who have never seen one, public toilets in Japan (though not in our inns) are in the floor. You squat.  They still flush and have modern plumbing and everything, just no seats, so they’re technically more sanitary.  This works better for some forms of business than others.
  • Ted gets fewer bug bites when wearing long pants. (Duh.)
  • Pamela’s blog posts get progressively longer each day of a trip.

Private Hot Spring Bath #3

Private Hot Spring Bath #3

2012-07-30: Fujuki Onsen to Tokyo

On the last day of our trip, we woke up eaarrrrlllier than early to relax in the third private outdoor hot-spring-pool *before* our 8am breakfast. We have now successfully tried all 3 of the private baths.

Breakfast was again many dishes, though none as enjoyable as yesterday’s. One particularly weird dish was a bowl full of fish that are about the size of a bean sprout. Looked like a bowl of short noodles full of eyes. The Norwegian guys were seated next to us at breakfast, and we noted that their breakfast dishes were the ones we’d been served yesterday. After comparing notes, we learned that their dinner dishes last night were also the ones we’d been served two nights ago. That must be one busy cook, considering each meal was 13-15 dishes… and he was making multiple meals.

The inn-elves drove us to a third ATM which had been closed yesterday so that we could pay them back… and then drove us to the bus terminal in Hirayu Onsen, the next major town, since we’d again missed the intended bus. Note to future selves: JP ATMs accept foreign debit cards. Other ATMs do not, pretty much universally.

We took a bus east to Matsumoto, rather than going back the way we’d come, and saw many pretty waterfalls in the hot spring area. From Matsumoto, we took a (slower) train to Shinjuku, Tokyo.

We wandered through Kinokuniya, Coldstone, and a mall in Shinjuku, but got sick of lugging luggage around while we shopped. Then we took a train to Shibuya to meet Eiko for dinner, where we met her mother as well. They took us to dinner at an Asian-fusion restaurant in a department store where we had Thai/Vietnamese food.

Pamela stayed with Eiko and her mother in Shibuya while Ted traveled back to Brian’s place to collect our walking sticks and return his key. We waited, and waited… and the discovered that Ted had gotten on wrong train and would not be returning to Shibuya, so we left and met him at the monorail to the airport.

Eiko and her mother took the monorail to the airport with us, where we checked in, returned our rental phone, and said goodbye to them. Then we flew home, during which we slept pretty much the entire way. We arrived and were greeted by Ted’s dad negative one hour after we’d left. Weirdo time zones.

Random Observations:

  • We’ve seen children in school uniforms the whole time we’ve been here, and not just the ones “dressed-up” as schoolgirls. They must attend school year-round… or enjoy wearing their school uniforms.
  • I lost weight in Japan; my pants are no longer too tight!
  • Jetlag was easier to deal with heading west: We arrived at 5am, were forced to stay up all day as we ran around Tokyo, crashed at night, and were on a normal schedule. After heading east, we left at midnight, slept all night, and then arrived at midnight… wide awake. This does not work so well…
  • Bay Area weather is SO NICE. Even when it’s hot.

Kyoto: Japan Days 5-7

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Ted has decided that my bullet-point blog posts are in a boring format, so here you get actual writing. Thus it’s longer. Comment which way is more interesting. =)

Ninen-zaka

Ninen-zaka

2011-07-25: Tokyo to Kyoto

After relaxing at Brian’s house in the morning, we took a shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo  Kyoto. Got on a hikari train, the second-fastest type! We went through a lot of tunnels: apparently shinkansen don’t go *over* hills; they go *through* them.

Upon arriving at Kyoto station, we transferred to a city bus.  The buses here are advanced (by our standards): they announce upcoming stops, both by sound recording and on a screen, and they are air-conditioned! Not as scary as usual, where you have to frantically find each intersection you pass on a map and hope you haven’t missed your stop.  We got off at the stop that the tourist info guy said to get off at… but then promptly got lost trying to find our ryokan (Japanese-style inn) because the map he gave us was crummy.

We finally arrived at Ryokan Uemura about an hour after we said we’d get there, and were greeted by Ms. Uemura, the innkeeper, who showed us to our (air-conditioned!!) room and served us tea and cake.  Although this inn was listed in Lonely Planet, got high reviews on TripAdvisor, along with recommendations to book far in advance, and has only 3 rooms, we were able to book the room by phone last night.  We did not expect it to be available.  Thought maybe it had had a cancellation; however, it appeared that we were actually the only guests there…

We relaxed in the room cooling off for a bit, then went for an evening walk through the Ishibei-koji, Ninen-zaka, and Sannen-zaka areas, which are cobblestone, wooden-house-lined cute streets. (Our inn happens to be located on Ishibei Koji.) Most places were closed, and the streets were nearly deserted but lit up prettily. We wandered down to the Yasaka Pagoda nearby and saw part of a giant Buddha statue at the Kodai-ji Temple (but could not enter to see the rest of it because it was closed).  We were definitely located in the cutest part of town.

When we finally decided we wanted dinner, we discovered nothing was open anymore (7:30pm).  Apparently it’s very weird to eat dinner past 7:30pm. We asked Ms. Uemura where we could get dinner, and after being astonished that we hadn’t eaten yet, she escorted us down the block to a Chinese restaurant that was still open.  This was our first non-Japanese meal since arriving.

After dinner, we showered and relaxed in our room for the rest of the night.  We found a book on Japanese architecture in our room; according to this book, our room looks very similar to a merchant-class Japanese house.  The floor was lined with 8 tatami (woven straw) mats; it was encased with sliding wooden and paper doors; there was a table in the middle of the room which could be moved to make room for the futons on the floor; there were little alcoves displaying decorations; and there is was separate passageway which had a sink and an area from which to view the garden through the window. It’s a cute room.

Random Observations:

  • Tokyo was hot. Kyoto is even hotter than Tokyo. Air conditioning is good. Brian thinks we’re wimps.
  • We were told that while in Tokyo, you stand on the left side of the escalator and people pass on the right side, it is the opposite in Kyoto. However, this is not true.  We tried standing on the right side and were just in the way.
  • Disposable chopsticks here are no better/worse than those in the U.S.
  • Vending machines have a lot of water and tea; it is hard to find juice around here.
Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove

2012-07-26: Kyoto on our Own

We had to wake up early for breakfast, for which we were served fruit, eggs over ham, toast, and orange juice by our hostess. Yay juice! She also offered us tea and coffee, was surprised when we declined both, and brought us extra juice and toast.

Ms. Uemura had us take an umbrella when we left today. That umbrella and the fan that was a gift from Akie were both instrumental in preventing heat stroke today, and the towel that was a gift from Eiko has proven instrumental in drying hands and removing sweat. California should adopt a parasol, fan and towel custom, especially in the Central Valley where it gets really hot. Maybe we’ll start a new trend.

We began by walking through Maruyama Park and the Yasaka Shrine to the Chion-in temple complex. We would like to note that gardens are cooler than temples. Especially gardens with shade from trees and running water.  We strolled through the beautiful garden area at Chion-in, then got lost in the confusing temple area with the terrible map they gave us at the ticket booth.  Chion-in has a lot of stairs and dead-ends. Also, its main hall is under construction, with a huge crane, a lot of scaffolding, and a sign saying it will finish restoration in 2019.  We started to get sick of the temple when we couldn’t find a way out, and eventually went all the way back and left through the front gate.

Next, we took the metro to a station that connected to a “rail line” and discovered that the “train” was actually a streetcar (singular), like the ones in SF, attached to lines overhead. We took this streetcar to Arashiyama, which means “western mountains” and is the western border of Kyoto.  (Our inn is in the “Higashiyama” district, which means “eastern mountains” and is the eastern border of Kyoto.) The buses, trains, and metro are all air-conditioned. Yay.

In Arashiyama, we had Katsu-don and Oyako-don for lunch at Yoshida-ya, a place our guidebook recommended.  Then we walked to Tenryu-ji Temple, where we were able to enter both the actual temple itself and its extensive gardens.  We exited the gardens to find the Bamboo Grove, which is like a forest made entirely of large stalks of bamboo.  While strolling through the bamboo grove, we watched a girl doing a photoshoot dressed up in a kimono.  Bamboo groves are really cool.  Unfortunately, Bamboo groves are also full of mosquitoes. Mosquito bites are itchy. Mosquitoes like Ted. He’s got around 40 large red splotches all over his legs and arms. =\ Two of his bites even got a pus-filled blister. =\  Pamela’s favorite spot was Ted’s least favorite spot.

When Ted got tired and grumpy from walking through mosquitoes, we got lost trying to find the Japan Rail station and wandered through a residential neighborhood. We eventually took a (real) train/metro back to our area and had dinner (nyumen and soba noodles) at Hisago, where we watched a girl dressed up in a kimono having dinner with her boyfriend.  Pamela’s study of Hiragana finally paid off: We’d tried to find Hisago for dinner last night and failed, but today in daylight, Pamela recognized the name of the restaurant written in Hiragana.

After dinner, we stopped at a cute store selling a lot of things made with beautiful fabrics and spent some time shopping until the shopkeepers got grumpy because they wanted to close. (It had been the only shop still open.)  Then we got some (more) ice cream from a convenience store and headed back to our ryokan.

Random Observations:

  • We saw several girls wearing kimonos; they look cute. However, their outfits look terribly hot for this weather; Ted thinks they should have portable air conditioners wrapped in the fabric on their backs.
  • Our inn has funny bathrooms. The sinks are on top of the toilet tanks, and the water runs out of the faucet and into the toilet when you flush. Then there is a cloth towel dispenser, which rolls cloth towels out and back up.
Fan Makers

Fan Makers

2012-07-27: Kyoto Walking Tours

We spent most of this morning and afternoon on a Kyoto Walking Tour called “Walk in Kyoto, Talk in English.”  We’d wanted to do the walk with Johnny Hillwalker, the guy who started it and is highly recommended, but he only does tours on Wednesdays now. Our guide was Emi.  Over the course of 5 hours, she took us to Higashi-Honganji Buddhist temple, another private Buddhist temple with a graveyard, Ayako-Tenmangu and Ichihime Shinto shrines, a fan-making workshop (Kyosendo), a pottery workshop (Yuki), a rosary-making workshop, lunch at a café in a shopping center, tea and sweets at a tea/sweet shop (Kaikado), the old Nintendo headquarters, a couple “teahouses” in the old geisha district, the gangster headquarters (where she asked to please not all look at the same time), and the only bath house in Kyoto that allows you into the bath with tattoos on (conveniently situated right next to the gangster headquarters).

Before the tour, we didn’t understand the difference between Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples; we couldn’t tell which was which. They both have offering boxes that you throw money in and bow to; some of them have bells to ring; they all have large traditional buildings; many of them have Stonehenge-ish gates at the entrance—but there is no distinction as to which have which of the above. During the tour, Emi claimed that Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are different, although they may look similar to the casual observer. Buddhism is used for death (does funeral rites, etc.) while Shintoism is for life (does weddings, etc.)  Both religions thus seem incomplete.  At Shinto shrines, you must clap to draw the attention of the gods, because they are just spirits floating around. At Buddhist temples, you need not clap because there is a statue of the god right in front of you; they have form. Shinto shrines are colorful, using reds and oranges. Buddhist temples are plainer (on the outside). Only Shinto shrines have tori gates. Also, Buddhist rosaries look different from Catholic rosaries. I’d assume they’re prayed differently, too…

We also learned that apparently you are not supposed to step on the edging of tatami mats because it wears off faster. Oops.  The fan-makers we watched made fans incredibly fast: using pre-folded 3-layer papers, the woman picked up a set of sticks, wiped them with glue, and inserted them into the papers. The man folded it up, made sure it was lined up right, and set it aside. When it is dry, they’ll go back and attach the sides. The whole process took under half a minute.

During our short break in the afternoon, we wandered into some shops and stopped at a café for shaved ice. It was too hot to do much. We gave up and took a bus to Gion, where the second tour we wanted to attend (same company) would begin. We went into an Internet Café hoping for Wifi, but found computers and cigarettes instead. Then we went into a bookstore, where we ended up with 4 people helping us find a book on Wagashi recipes for a friend, and still failed.

After leaving the bookstore, we went to the meeting point for the Gion walking tour and discovered we were 15 minutes late. We attempted to follow the tour route and actually found the tour though!

This second tour was a walking tour of Gion, the current Geisha district, with Mie. Mie was more fluid in English, and even used a word Pamela was unsure about: auspicious.  Mie walked us around Gion showing us geiko/meiko (geisha and apprentice geisha, in Kyoto dialect) dormitories and teahouses and explaining the traditions to us.  We happened to be stopped in front of one dormitory when a taxi pulled up, and Mie told us that meant a meiko was coming out because they only use that one taxi service. We all stood there for like 15 minutes waiting for her to come out so we could take a picture of her. Only Ted succeeded, so others in the group started taking pictures of his picture…

Both walking tours were good. The tour guides stopped often enough that we were not exhausted or dying of heat stroke, and we learned interesting things (although Ted claims not to remember anything).  Both guides had good English; probably the most fluent English we’ve heard anybody speak since getting here. Emi had two English quirks: she often confused masculine and feminine pronouns (her/his, she/he, her/him), and pronounced all English “r”s with the Japanese pronunciation. Whenever she was grasping for a word, she’s kill a millisecond saying “how should say…” and then continue right along. Pamela also noted that Emi (in the old district) said that the geisha are still sometimes used as prostitutes today since official prostitutes were banned; while Mie (in the new district) refuted the claim.

At the end of our Gion tour, we went back to an okonomiyaki restaurant that Mie had pointed out during the tour for dinner. The noodle dish was good, but the place in Tokyo had better egg dishes.

While walking back to the bus stop, we got passed by a geiko going somewhere. Ted tried to take her picture, and she literally ran away.  We passed her again waiting to cross an intersection, and she kept looking at him nervously.

Random Observations:

  • Ted uses ice cream to cool off. Pamela must limit Ted’s ice cream intake so that he will be able to eat meals.
  • The AC is never turned down very cool. Maybe cools off to 80 degrees (F), which feels good compared to outside but is not “cool”.  Opposite of places in the US, where you have to go out carrying a sweatshirt because it’s cooled down to 60 degrees inside.Ted’s suggested itinerary for next time: sightseeing in morning and evening; shopping in the afternoon.

Ted Goes Tarzan: Ecuador Day 1

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

*Written 6/30/2010; posted 7/7/2010 when we got access to WIFI*

We are sitting in the middle of the jungle.

After an all-nighter packing for our honeymoon and an almost failed attempt to get a taxi, we flew from SFO to Atlanta and on to Quito, Ecuador.  Flights were on time and uneventful, although there was a surprisingly long security line for 5:30 in the morning at SFO.

Upon arriving in a new country on a new continent in a new hemisphere, we were met by a guide from SurTrek, Paul, who took us to our hotel, the Mercure Alameda.  His English was much better than both our Spanish combined, and he gave us an introduction to Ecuador during the short drive.

The hotel was nice, and we were hungry. We attempted to order food via room service–yay 24 hour room service!  Pamela had no idea what exactly transpired during the phone conversation, but the food arrived nonetheless.  We finally made it to sleep around 2 or 3 am.

This morning, we were greeted at 9am by a different guide, Andres, after dining in the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  Breakfast had selections such as pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, “meat lasagna” which was carne wrapped in noodle with cheese on top, pastries, fruit, strawberry agua fresca, and other things.

Andres found us a bookstore at which we purchased a pocket-sized Spanish-English dictionary after spending the previous night practicing a sorry bit of Spanish.  He then brought us to a small airport that had planes which would take us to Coca, a city in the Amazon Basin.  Unfortunately, the plane was delayed 1.5 hours, so we killed time in the airport lobby–yay free wifi.

The plane itself was a small twin propeller plane with 3 columns of seats–2 down one side and 1 down the other.  From it, we finally got our first real view of Quito, which appears to lie in a large valley 9200 feet above sea level surrounded by mountains.  The plane took us east away from the mountains and toward the jungle, landing us in Coca, about 9000 feet lower than we began.  In Coca, we were met by Hector, our guide from our next lodge, who had a truck drive us down to the Rio Napo where there was a motorized canoe waiting for us.

canoeThe journey down the Rio Napo via motorized canoe was either uneventful or exciting, depending on whether you find it exciting to be riding a motorized canoe down a large river in the middle of the rainforest (Pamela) or not (Ted).  It was about a 30 minute ride.  Hector explained that the river was about 3 meters higher than last week due to some heavy rainfall the previous few days that caused some flooding.  At its low, the river would have been one third its current width.  Yet, today the weather was partly cloudy and mild in temperature.

We passed by miles of trees and a few huts along the river until we arrived at the ArcoIris Jungle Lodge.  The lodge consists of 6 bungalows and a main building which serves as the restaurant.  We climbed 120 steps to get from the river to the restaurant; the boat driver, Victor, attempted to send our suitcases up a pulley system, but ended up carrying them both when it didn’t work.  We were given some water and shown to our cabin, whereby Hector tried to show us the code to open the door and couldn’t until he called for help.  The entire staff here now knows how to open our door.

We were given some time to rest and unpack (though we left everything packed to keep bugs out) and then went back to the restaurant for lunch.  Lunch began with some soup and plantains, both of which were good and filling.  When we thought we were finished… the main course came, some meat and potatoes and vegetables that neither of us could finish (although Hector did).  We were particularly fond of the pineapple juice; Ted repeatedly requested “jugo de piña, por favor”.

During lunch, Hector explained to us the projects that he worked on out here in the jungle.  He has started a monkey reintroduction project on the nearby island that he lives on, as well as a school for the local Quichua children that live on the wrong side of the river to attend the public schools offered.

After lunch, we changed into “jungle clothes” (long sleeves, long pants, boots) and Hector said he was going to take us to the island to look for the monkeys.  He also said that due to the recent rainfall, large sections of the trail had flooded and we should be prepared to get wet; he provided us with rubber boots.

Wet we got.

We didn’t find any monkeys.

We did meet his wife, child, and dog, and he showed us the schoolroom that he built as well as where the schoolteacher lived and where he and his family lived.  All the buildings in the area are built of a combination of bamboo and stronger bamboo-like wood, as well as thatching for the roof.  He pointed out a cinnamon tree to us, and there were chickens roaming the property as well.

Wading

We spent quite awhile roaming and wading through the flooded trails on the island. At one point we had to wade over an underwater bridge with deep water on either side. Pamela only fell off the invisible underwater bridge once (due to not being able to see where she was stepping from the river flooding above the height of the bridge)…

Throughout the journey, we were followed by swarms of mosquitos.  Our insect repellent seemed to keep most of them from landing on us, but it was still disconcerting to see them swarming everywhere.  Ted still got (at least) three bites.

When we got back to the canoe for our trip back to the lodge, Victor couldn’t get the motor to start.  We floated off downstream until Hector rowed us to shore and tied the canoe to a tree.  Then Hector and Victor fiddled with the engine for a while, eventually emptying it of water in the fuel line, and got the motor started again.  Off we went, back to the lodge.

We were given some time to clean up before dinner. This was when we started discovering what, besides the suitcase pulley, did not work.

The bungalows themselves were built well and look very nice.  They have bamboo and bamboo-like paneling, thatching on the roof, a canopy bed to keep out bugs, a porch with a jacuzzi outside, bamboo closets and shelves, and fitting decorations.  They each have a bathroom with a large shower, sink, and toilet.  They have electricity powered by a generator from 5pm to 10pm each evening, with lightbulbs and power outlets throughout them.

So when we returned sopping wet and muddy, naturally we wanted to clean up before dinner.  We were informed that the hot water did not work in the showers at the moment, but that it did work in the jacuzzi.  After debating between jumping in the pool (the pool in the middle of the jungle looks very strange) and soaking in the jacuzzi, the hot water in the jacuzzi won.

We got back to our bungalow and found the lightswitches.  The porch light turned on. The bathroom light turned on.  The lights in the main living area did not.

We walked out to the lit porch and turned on the jacuzzi.  The water began trickling out.  Inside, the jacuzzi was filled with dirt and bugs, and the water coming out was brown.  It was less than inviting.

Double fail.

We walked back to the restaurant/main area and asked about the lights and the jacuzzi.  They replaced the light bulb for us, and checked the jacuzzi–and told us it was working fine.  You see, this is the jungle, and the water comes from a well a little ways away, so it takes awhile to get here. But don’t worry; it is clean.  One of the boys brought a sponge and got the bugs and stuff out for us.

An hour after returning, we gave up on the jacuzzi ever being full, especially as the hot water had run out, and went to go find dinner instead.

Dinner was a noodle soup, chicken wrapped in a giant leaf, salad, and yuca, an Amazonian potato cousin.  Dessert was a tree tomato, roasted and seasoned and tasting nothing like a tomato, but rather like a sweet squash.  During dinner, we talked with Hector about Ecuadorian politics, how he met his wife while working with an environmental NGO, oil drilling in the Amazon, and other local issues. We learned that Ecuador has similar politics to Venezuela and Bolivia, but that he feels that politicians should do more to help economies grow and develop rather than just giving out aid to the poor and not fixing the problems.  We also learned that the Amazon is a giant oil field, and that oil companies are drilling in the forest for oil.  They also find propane, but it is too expensive to refine it here so they burn it off to release the pressure it builds.  There are little fires dotting the forest.

After dinner, we gave up on both the pool and the jacuzzi and braved the cold shower. Fast showers ensued.  Pamela went on a mosquito hunt in the bathroom. Bed followed shortly thereafter.

Just another day in the jungle.